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Penn State plans 'report card' on frats

Pennsylvania State University for the first time this fall plans to publish a "report card" on its fraternities and sororities, listing their status — active or suspended — and their history of conduct infractions.

Although some area universities already publish on their websites which fraternities and sororities have been in trouble for hazing, alcohol violations or other offenses, Penn State currently offers no public site where students and parents can learn about or compare the conduct history of its 83 fraternities and sororities.

Penn State is not alone. The University of Pennsylvania, Drexel, Widener, La Salle, Bucknell, the University of the Sciences, Temple and West Chester said they don't have such sites, either, though West Chester plans to start publishing conduct information this fall, according to a spokeswoman.

LehighRutgers, the University of DelawareLafayette College, and Rider University in New Jersey, where a freshman died in 2007 after an alcohol-related hazing, already publish conduct information about their Greek organizations.

Several other colleges, including Swarthmore and Villanova, did not respond to an inquiry.

Penn State's idea for a report card came out of a 2015 university task force on Greek life that was created after the Kappa Delta Rho fraternity was suspended for three years for hazing, underage drinking, and sexual harassment.

The task force disbanded without issuing a report but after the death of 19-year-old Tim Piazza following an alcohol-fueled pledge night at Beta Theta Pi, Penn State president Eric Barron talked about the task force recommendation.

"The objective was to provide a 'buyer's guide' to help students avoid groups that had poor records and be attracted to groups with good records," Barron said in an April letter to the community. "The thinking was that perhaps a 'buyer's guide' would affect the economic status of the house. At the same time it could reveal any negative trend in behavior over time, allowing us to intervene earlier by putting a house on notice."

Though the plan isn't final, the new report card also likely will compare groups in areas such as community service hours, philanthropy, academics and other categories. But it's not a cure-all, said Lisa Powers, a Penn State spokeswoman.

"It is important to note that even something like this has its limitations," she said. "It would not … have surfaced a fraternity such as Beta Theta Pi, which by all outward appearances was a 'model' fraternity."

Penn State has permanently banned Beta Theta Pi and 18 members have been charged in Piazza's death by a grand jury.

Officials at several area universities and national groups endorse the idea of sharing conduct information publicly.

"Transparency is kind of the first step to making a safer campus," said Alison Kiss, executive director of the Clery Center, a national group that advocates for better reporting of campus crime.

Heather Kirk, chief communications officer for the North-American Interfraternity Conference, agreed that conduct violations and sanctions, as well as academic information, should be shared.

"Sunlight is the best disinfectant," she said.

But she emphasized that the policy should cover all student organizations and athletic teams — not just Greek groups.

"Issues like hazing and alcohol misuse are problems across a range of student activities on campus, from fraternities to the marching band," she said.

Among area universities that responded to an inquiry, Lehigh University appears to publish the most detailed information on conduct. It began adding disciplinary offenses and sanctions meted out against its fraternities and sororities on a publicly accessible blog in 2013.

"The goal is primarily to increase transparency and ensure that accurate information is being communicated to students and other community stakeholders," university spokeswoman Lori Friedman said.

A viewer can see, for example, that the Psi Upsilon fraternity was put on disciplinary probation earlier this month for "irresponsible distribution of alcohol" and drugs found in the house. Also available is notification that Sigma Chi last month was warned that any further infractions through December could result in the dissolution of its fraternity, this after "the third significant alcohol violation in one calendar year"; two of those episodes resulted in highly intoxicated students being transported to the hospital.

The blog originally was created in 2009 to communicate with students, alumni, and parents and highlight positive contributions from Greek groups, said Ashley Baudouin, assistant dean and director of fraternity and sorority affairs at Lehigh.

The top item on the blog Friday was about student life leadership award winners.

"Over time, I think we realized we needed to tell the full story," she said.

Some people liked the full disclosure, she said. Lehigh has heard from parents who read the blog and want to know what the university is doing to follow up or what they can do, Baudouin said.

Others complained that "airing its dirty laundry" could tarnish the good work that the groups do, she said.

"We have to own or own missteps in order to address them," she counters.

Lehigh also provides a four-year conduct history for each group with confirmed violations. A review shows more than 80 incidents among 24 of the university's 31 fraternities and sororities (incidents still under investigation are not included). Eight incidents involved hazing, and the majority involved alcohol. Seven groups had no infractions.

Rider's decision to post conduct infractions was one of 19 measures that came out of a university task force, formed after the death of Gary DeVercelly Jr. 10 years ago, said spokeswoman Kristine Brown. Several fraternities and sororities were cited for policy violations in 2012 and 2013, the site shows, but not one group has had a violation since then.

Brown said officials attribute that result to educational programming and other efforts implemented by the task force.

Rider also rates the groups in a number of areas including academics, house management, leadership development, and risk reduction.

The University of Delaware, as well, ranks its fraternities and sororities in academics, conduct, and other areas by categories: gold, silver, bronze, satisfactory, and needs improvement. Of the university's 50 or so Greek groups, two fraternities have been suspended for hazing through spring 2018 and seven are on deferred suspension or social probation, according to the website.

Each fall, the university sends a letter to parents directing them to the website, she said.

"We want to empower students to make the best decisions possible," said spokeswoman Andrea Boyle Tippett. "Students and parents should know the full breadth of the organizations they are joining."